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Smooth bumpy road for bikes

The Post and Courier: Smooth bumpy road for bikes

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The latest assessment of bicycling in South Carolina isn't pretty. The state ranks second in the nation for hazards to bicyclists. It is 44th in the use of bicycles for commuting. And it is tied for dead last in spending on bike and pedestrian projects.

But those discouraging statistics do not have to be debilitating. They should challenge state and local governments and individuals to turn things around.

The report, published by the national Alliance for Biking and Walking, comes not long after local elections in which a common campaign theme was making the area more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. Candidates said they have the will to work on the issue. Now they have some ammunition.

Tom Bradford, acting director of Charleston Moves, is convinced that South Carolina can do better. He said Boston, which faces some of the same challenges of the Charleston area, has made great strides in improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Local government officials say they want the same for this area, and have made some progress. For example, the city of Charleston's greenway west of the Ashley, and the bike path ending at the Cooper River bridge are both successes. The Highway 61 hiker/biker trail is a popular way for children to get to school.

Yvonne Gilreath, mobility manager for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, sees more improvements on the way. For example, eight local schools are spending $200,000 in grants to make it safer to get to school on a bicycle or on foot. Local governments have committed to having "complete streets." That means making streets accessible for cars, public transportation, bikes and pedestrians.

Ms. Gilreath concedes that there is a lot more to do. And improvements aren't going to happen without lots of effort, particularly in this puny economy. It is important for municipal and county governments -- and especially the reluctant state Department of Transportation -- to consider bicyclists and pedestrians in all related projects. Residents should insist on it.

The interest is there: Charleston County residents voted for the half-cent sales tax in support of bike and pedestrian projects, as well as green space. The city of Charleston's comprehensive Green Plan has ideas for improved cycling.

The Medical University helped get flashing lights for some of the stops along the Greenway. It's a good time for the health care community to do more. According to the report, South Carolina, which has relatively low levels of bicycling, has an overweight population of 65 percent and obese population of 29 percent.

Leaders in government, health, education and business need to pool their insights and energy to make the area, and the state, more welcoming to bikers and walkers. That means finding ways to connect neighborhoods to each other and to allow people to park their gas-using, emissions-spewing, traffic-producing cars in the driveway and bike or walk to work.